SEO Ranking Factors

SEO Ranking Factors – Google has HUNDREDS of ranking factors with signals that can change daily, weekly, monthly or yearly to help it work out where your page ranks in comparison to other competing pages in SERPs.

You will not ever find every ranking factor. Many ranking factors are on-page or on-site and others are off-page or off-site. Some ranking factors are based on where you are, or what you have searched for before.

I’ve been in online marketing for 15 years. In that time, a lot has changed. I’ve learned to focus on aspects that offer the greatest return on investment of your labour.

Learn SEO Basics….

Here are few simple SEO tips to begin with:

  • If you are just starting out, don’t think you can fool Google about everything all the time. Google has VERY probably seen your tactics before. So, it’s best to keep your plan simple. GET RELEVANT. GET REPUTABLE. Aim for a healthy, satisfying visitor experience. If you are just starting out – you may as well learn how to do it within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines first. Make a decision, early, if you are going to follow Google’s guidelines, or not, and stick to it. Don’t be caught in the middle with an important project. Do not always follow the herd.
  • If your aim is to deceive visitors from Google, in any way, Google is not your friend. Google is hardly your friend at any rate – but you don’t want it as your enemy. Google will send you lots of free traffic though if you manage to get to the top of search results, so perhaps they are not all that bad.
  • A lot of optimisation techniques that are effective in boosting sites rankings in Google are against Google’s guidelines. For example many links that may have once promoted you to the top of Google, may, in fact, today be hurting your site and its ability to rank high in Google. Keyword stuffing might be holding your page back…. You must be smart, and cautious, when it comes to building links to your site in a manner that Google *hopefully* won’t have too much trouble with, in the FUTURE. Because they will punish you in the future.
  • Don’t expect to rank number 1 in any niche for a competitive without a lot of investment, work. Don’t expect results overnight. Expecting too much too fast might get you in trouble with the spam team.
  • You don’t pay anything to get into Google, Yahoo or Bing natural, or free listings. It’s common for the major search engines to find your website pretty quickly by themselves within a few days. This is made so much easier if your cms actually ‘pings’ search engines when you update content (via XML sitemaps or RSS for instance).
  • To be listed and rank high in Google and other search engines, you really should consider and mostly abide by search engine rules and official guidelines for inclusion. With experience and a lot of observation, you can learn which rules can be bent, and which tactics are short term and perhaps, should be avoided.
  • Google ranks websites (relevancy aside for a moment) by the number and quality of incoming links to a site from other websites (amongst hundreds of other metrics). Generally speaking, a link from a page to another page is viewed in Google “eyes” as a vote for that page the link points to. The more votes a page gets, the more trusted a page can become, and the higher Google will rank it – in theory. Rankings are HUGELY affected by how much Google ultimately trusts the DOMAIN the page is on. BACKLINKS (links from other websites – trump every other signal.)
  • I’ve always thought if you are serious about ranking – do so with ORIGINAL COPY. It’s clear – search engines reward good content it hasn’t found before. It indexes it blisteringly fast, for a start (within a second, if your website isn’t penalised!). So – make sure each of your pages has enough text content you have written specifically for that page – and you won’t need to jump through hoops to get it ranking.
  • If you have original, quality content on a site, you also have a chance of generating inbound quality links (IBL). If your content is found on other websites, you will find it hard to get links, and it probably will not rank very well as Google favours diversity in its results. If you have original content of sufficient quality on your site, you can then let authority websites – those with online business authority – know about it, and they might link to you – this is called a quality backlink.
  • Search engines need to understand that ‘a link is a link’ that can be trusted. Links can be designed to be ignored by search engines with the rel nofollow attribute.
  • Search engines can also find your site by other websites linking to it. You can also submit your site to search engines direct, but I haven’t submitted any site to a search engine in the last ten years – you probably don’t need to do that. If you have a new site, I would immediately register it with Google Webmaster Tools these days.
  • Google and Bing use a crawler (Googlebot and Bingbot) that spiders the web looking for new links to find. These bots might find a link to your homepage somewhere on the web and then crawl and index the pages of your site if all your pages are linked together. If your website has an XML sitemap, for instance, Google will use that to include that content in its index. An XML sitemap is INCLUSIVE, not EXCLUSIVE.  Google will crawl and index every single page on your site – even pages out with an XML sitemap.
  • Many think Google will not allow new websites to rank well for competitive terms until the web address “ages” and acquires “trust” in Google – I think this depends on the quality of the incoming links. Sometimes your site will rank high for a while then disappears for months. A “honeymoon period” to give you a taste of Google traffic, no doubt.
  • Google WILL classify your site when it crawls and indexes your site – and this classification can have a DRASTIC effect on your rankings – it’s important for Google to work out WHAT YOUR ULTIMATE INTENT IS – do you want to be classified as an affiliate site made ‘just for Google’, a domain holding page or a small business website with a real purpose? Ensure you don’t confuse Google by being explicit with all the signals you can – to show on your website you are a real business, and your INTENT is genuine – and even more importantly today – FOCUSED ON SATISFYING A VISITOR.
  • NOTE – If a page exists only to make money from Google’s free traffic – Google calls this spam. I go into this more, later in this guide.
  • The transparency you provide on your website in text and links about who you are, what you do, and how you’re rated on the web or as a business is one way that Google could use (algorithmically and manually) to ‘rate’ your website. Note that Google has a HUGE army of quality raters and at some point they will be on your site if you get a lot of traffic from Google.
  • To rank for specific keyword phrase searches, you usually need to have the keyword phrase or highly relevant words on your page (not necessarily all together, but it helps) or in links pointing to your page/site.
  • Ultimately what you need to do to compete is largely dependent on what the competition for the term you are targeting is doing. You’ll need to at least mirror how hard they are competing if a better opportunity is hard to spot.
  • As a result of other quality sites linking to your site, the site now has a certain amount of real PageRank that is shared with all the internal pages that make up your website that will in future help provide a signal to where this page ranks in the future.
  • Yes, you need to build links to your site to acquire more PageRank, or Google ‘juice’ – or what we now call domain authority or trust. Google is a link-based search engine – it does not quite understand ‘good’ or ‘quality’ content – but it does understand ‘popular’ content. It can also usually identify poor, or THIN CONTENT – and it penalises your site for that – or – at least – it takes away the traffic you once had with an algorithm change. Google doesn’t like calling actions the take a ‘penalty’ – it doesn’t look good. They blame your ranking drops on their engineers getting better at identifying quality content or links, or the inverse – low-quality content and unnatural links. If they do take action your site for paid links – they call this a ‘Manual Action’ and you will get notified about it in Webmaster Tools if you sign up.
  • Link building is not JUST a numbers game, though. One link from a “trusted authority” site in Google could be all you need to rank high in your niche. Of course, the more “trusted” links you attract, the more Google will trust your site. It is evident you need MULTIPLE trusted links from MULTIPLE trusted websites to get the most from Google in 2016.
  • Try and get links within page text pointing to your site with relevant, or at least, natural looking, keywords in the text link – not, for instance, in blogrolls or site-wide links. Try to ensure the links are not obviously “machine generated” e.g. site-wide links on forums or directories. Get links from pages, that in turn, have a lot of links to them, and you will soon see benefits.
  • Onsite, consider linking to your other pages by linking to pages within main content text. I usually only do this when it is relevant – often, I’ll link to relevant pages when the keyword is in the title elements of both pages. I don’t go in for auto-generating links at all. Google has penalised sites for using particular auto link plugins, for instance, so I avoid them.
  • Linking to a page with actual key-phrases in the link help a great deal in all search engines when you want to feature for specific key terms. For example; “SEO Scotland” as opposed to http://www.hobo-web.co.uk or “click here“. Saying that – in 2016, Google is punishing manipulative anchor text very aggressively, so be sensible – and stick to brand mentions and plain URL links that build authority with less risk. I rarely ever optimise for grammatically incorrect terms these days (especially with links).
  • I think the anchor text links in internal navigation is still valuable – but keep it natural. Google needs links to find and help categorise your pages. Don’t underestimate the value of a clever internal link keyword-rich architecture and be sure to understand for instance how many words Google counts in a link, but don’t overdo it. Too many links on a page could be seen as a poor user experience. Avoid lots of hidden links in your template navigation.
  • Search engines like Google ‘spider’ or ‘crawl’ your entire site by following all the links on your site to new pages, much as a human would click on the links to your pages. Google will crawl and index your pages, and within a few days usually, begin to return your pages in SERPs.
  • After a while, Google will know about your pages, and keep the ones it deems ‘useful’ – pages with original content, or pages with a lot of links to them. The rest will be de-indexed. Be careful – too many low-quality pages on your site will impact your overall site performance in Google. Google is on record talking about good and bad ratios of quality content to low-quality content.
  • Ideally, you will have unique pages, with unique page titles and unique page meta descriptions . Google does not seem to use the meta description when ranking your page for specific keyword searches if not relevant and unless you are careful if you might end up just giving spammers free original text for their site and not yours once they scrape your descriptions and put the text in main content on their site. I don’t worry about meta keywords these days as Google and Bing say they either ignore them or use them as spam signals.
  • Google will take some time to analyse your entire site, examining text content and links. This process is taking longer and longer these days but is ultimately determined by your domain reputation and real PageRank.
  • If you have a lot of duplicate low-quality text already found by Googlebot on other websites it knows about; Google will ignore your page. If your site or page has spammy signals, Google will penalise it, sooner or later. If you have lots of these pages on your site – Google will ignore most of your website.
  • You don’t need to keyword stuff your text to beat the competition.
  • You optimise a page for more traffic by increasing the frequency of the desired key phrase, related key terms, co-occurring keywords and synonyms in links, page titles and text content. There is no ideal amount of text – no magic keyword density.Keyword stuffing is a tricky business, too, these days.
  • I prefer to make sure I have as many UNIQUE relevant words on the page that make up as many relevant long tail queries as possible.
  • If you link out to irrelevant sites, Google may ignore the page, too – but again, it depends on the site in question. Who you link to, or HOW you link to, REALLY DOES MATTER – I expect Google to use your linking practices as a potential means by which to classify your site. Affiliate sites, for example, don’t do well in Google these days without some good quality backlinks and higher quality pages.
  • Many search engine marketers think who you link out to (and who links to you) helps determine a topical community of sites in any field or a hub of authority. Quite simply, you want to be in that hub, at the centre if possible (however unlikely), but at least in it. I like to think of this one as a good thing to remember in the future as search engines get even better at determining topical relevancy of pages, but I have never actually seen any granular ranking benefit (for the page in question) from linking out.
  • I’ve got by, by thinking external links to other sites should probably be on single pages deeper in your site architecture, with the pages receiving all your Google Juice once it’s been “soaked up” by the higher pages in your site structure (the home page, your category pages). This tactic is old school but I still follow it. I don’t need to think you need to worry about that, too much, in 2016.
  • Original content is king and will attract a “natural link growth” – in Google’s opinion. Too many incoming links too fast might devalue your site, but again. I usually err on the safe side – I always aimed for massive diversity in my links – to make them look ‘more natural’. Honestly, I go for natural links in 2016 full stop, for this website.
  • Google can devalue whole sites, individual pages, template generated links and individual links if Google deems them “unnecessary” and a ‘poor user experience’.
  • Google knows who links to you, the “quality” of those links, and whom you link to. These – and other factors – help ultimately determine where a page on your site ranks. To make it more confusing – the page that ranks on your site might not be the page you want to rank, or even the page that determines your rankings for this term. Once Google has worked out your domain authority – sometimes it seems that the most relevant page on your site Google HAS NO ISSUE with will rank.
  • Google decides which pages on your site are important or most relevant. You can help Google by linking to your important pages and ensuring at least one page is well optimised amongst the rest of your pages for your desired key phrase. Always remember Google does not want to rank ‘thin’ pages in results – any page you want to rank – should have all the things Google is looking for. That’s a lot these days!
  • It is important you spread all that real ‘PageRank’ – or link equity – to your sales keyword / phrase rich sales pages, and as much remains to the rest of the site pages, so Google does not ‘demote’ pages into oblivion –  or ‘supplemental results’ as we old timers knew them back in the day. Again – this is slightly old school – but it gets me by, even today.
  • Consider linking to important pages on your site from your home page, and other important pages on your site.
  • Focus on RELEVANCE first. Then, focus your marketing efforts and get REPUTABLE. This is the key to ranking ‘legitimately’ in Google in 2016.
  • Every few months Google changes its algorithm to punish sloppy optimisation or industrial manipulation. Google Panda and Google Penguin are two such updates, but the important thing is to understand Google changes its algorithms constantly to control its listings pages (over 600 changes a year we are told).
  • The art of rank modification is to rank without tripping these algorithms or getting flagged by a human reviewer – and that is tricky!
  • Focus on improving website download speeds at all times. The web is changing very fast, and a fast website is a good user experience.

Welcome to the tightrope that is modern web optimisation.

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